A fatal elevator accident one month ago still haunts residents of the City Heights Takeshiba condominium complex in Minato Ward, Tokyo.
A man enters the City Heights Takeshiba building in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on June 7, as a police officer stands by the elevator that malfunctioned June 3, killing a high school boy.
He also said elevator manufacturers are reluctant to sell repair parts to independent maintenance firms.
Roughly 580,000 elevators were operating in Japan as of March 2005, and 90 percent of their maintenance is handled by firms affiliated with the manufacturers, according to the Japan Elevator Association, which is made up of 99 makers, including Toshiba Elevator Building Systems Corp. and Hitachi Ltd.
Though the share of independent maintenance firms is small, Gihei Takahashi, a professor at architecture at Toyo University’s faculty of human life design in Saitama Prefecture, stressed that sharing safety information enables makers and maintenance firms to take measures to prevent accidents.
Kunio Kokubo, a professor of mechanical engineering at Kogakuin University in Tokyo, said manufacturers are reluctant to share design and other technical information with nonaffiliated independents.
“Makers want their affiliated firms to maintain their elevators,” he said. “It also increases groupwide profits for makers.”
A Japan Elevator Association official argued that independent firms don’t have the expertise to make proper repairs.
“If they make maintenance contracts with building owners, they should have the ability to deal with any problems the elevators under their care encounter,” the official said, asking not to be identified. “If they don’t know how to fix malfunctions, they won’t ask makers for manuals because that would only reveal their lack of expertise.”
In fact, Schindler executives said in a news conferences in Tokyo last month that SEC Elevator Co., the independent firm contracted to maintain the two elevators at City Heights Takeshiba, neither requested nor was given a maintenance manual.
Following the accident, an advisory panel at the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry on June 23 began discussing ways to prevent elevator accidents.
The panel hopes to submit preventive measures in late August.
In the meantime, building managers are growing increasingly worried about elevator maintenance.
“The accident exposed a breakdown in the current elevator inspection system,” said Chiaki Tanigaki, secretary general of the Japan Federation of Condominium Associations, a nonprofit group of 17 condo resident associations.
“We have to become more careful when selecting a firm for elevator maintenance by examining not only their maintenance service fees but also their technical capabilities,” he said.